In Lake Elmo, some city administrators are marked permanent and others interim. But in the end, it seems, they’re all just interim.
The arrival of the latest city administrator at the end of this month will mark the 10th time the job has changed hands since 2003 in the small but rollicking Washington County suburb.
Ask Clark Schroeder, the latest to depart, whether a recent seven-hour City Council meeting studded with vitriol is any sign of what it was like.
“Seven hours! — that’s just what you see on tape,” he replied. “We were there for another hour, counting the closed part of the meeting. I got home at 3:30 in the morning, by which time the morning paper had been delivered.”
Schroeder took the position last year on an interim basis, expressing hope that he would wind up applying for the permanent job. In the end, he backed away.
“I really felt freer in not applying,” he said, “because that way I could say some hard things to the council that needed to be said.”
Told that a City Council meeting in Lake Elmo comes off as having all the charm of a divorcing couple bickering endlessly in the next booth at Perkins, Schroeder said: “That’s probably a pretty good analogy. It’s hard on the staff to watch.”
The five-member council has tried to keep a lid on things by hiring a professional parliamentarian with awe-inspiring patience to sit with them and help guide discussions, which have included attempts to refuse to let people weigh in repeatedly on a single topic.
But to skip to any random spot on the videotape is to find gems like these from council members:
• “We have to avoid spending 40 minutes approving our agendas every night.” (Julie Fliflet)
• “This is just a despicable government you have up here, and why you are not up here protesting this. …” (Justin Bloyer, speaking to a sparse audience)
• “Show me a meeting where there’s not name calling and saying we’re fascists, and this and that.” (Anne Smith)
• “I’ve recorded all my conversations with staff. Tell me the date and time I was inappropriate with staff.” (Bloyer again)
Since citizens elected a majority of women to the council in 2014, it seems the council often splits along gender lines: three women against two men.
A number of male officials have left City Hall and been replaced with women. The most recent example is the newly hired city administrator, Kristina Handt, who takes over March 28. The same has happened with the city clerk, city attorney and city planner.
Schroeder maintains it’s not deliberate; for instance, he said, the new city attorney was more a matter of hiring a firm than a person. “We just hired the best people,” he said.
In fairness, things in Lake Elmo get as intense as they do — and often have, stretching back to the 1980s and beyond — partly because residents are so bitterly split.
The city is near the intersection of two major interstate freeways, yet so much value is placed on retaining its rural charm that efforts to cash in and allow development are rarely greenlighted, creating simmering resentment all around.
Despite all of that, swarms of applicants do seem to turn up for interviews. The city administrator job drew 12 to 14 applicants.
What will Schroeder do next? “Start applying for jobs,” he said. “I’ve actually learned a lot in doing this.”